Friday, July 8, 2011

Bountiful Berries: Part 1, Strawberries

Strawberry plants produce blossoms,
green, and mature fruit all at the same time.

How did they get the name "strawberry"?
In the 'olden' days, farmers mulched the plants with straw, not plastic like today.  So they called the berries "straw" berries!

Hot weather marks the end of the productive season for strawberries.  The plants prefer moderate temperatures for fruit production which in my zone 9 garden occurs from late March to early July.  That's three plus months of fruit!  Not bad for a plant which is also a beautiful flowering groundcover.

In the upcoming weeks the plants will switch their energy from producing fruit to producing the next generation of plants.  They do this by sending out 'runners', long stems with a set of leaves at the end.  When the end with the leaves touches the ground, it will send out roots into the soil and a new plant is born.

Strawberries are perennials and will produce fruit for about 3 years before their production declines.  There are two types of cultivars, short day and day neutral.  Short day cultivars produce when days are short from fall to spring.  Day neutral cultivars do not respond to day length and will produce into summer until temperatures get too high.  

Growing Tips:

  • If you will be keeping your plants for next year, cut off the runners as they are produced to conserve energy for the mother plant.
  • Continue to water, lightly feed, bait for snails, and mulch the plants over the summer.  
  • To plant new plants in mild winter areas, purchase bare root plants or six packs in late October thru December and plant in well drained soil.  They can also be planted in early spring, but may not produce as much the first year because of the later start.  In colder areas, set out plants in early spring.
  • Strawberries are susceptible to crown rot if kept too moist.  Raised beds and pots provide the good drainage they need or you can mound soil in rows as the commercial growers do.
  • Choose a site in full sun, cultivate soil and mix organic fertilizer in the soil at time of planting.  Fertilize again about six weeks later and periodically throughout the growing season.
  • Set the plants at the same level they were growing at the nursery.  If set too high they will be weak, too deep and they will rot.
  • Strawberries like mulch.  Use weed free straw, wood chips, or plastic as the commercial growers do. Mulch conserves soil moisture, maintains a more even soil temperature and suppresses weeds.  It also keeps the fruit off the ground protecting it from soil organisms that can cause rotting.
  • Pick when fully red.  If not eaten that day, refrigerate.  Or hull, wash, drain and freeze in ziploc bags for later use.  Frozen strawberries make great jam and smoothies!
Happy Gardening!

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